Photography is losing to the Obama administration

Jan 26, 2009 New Yorker cover

While there’s a lot to be happy with in American politics over the past few days, Obama’s administration’s limitations on the media are a troubling development. Just as during the campaign, when Obama exhibited Bush-like message control and “disregarded old-media courtship rituals” according to this Time article, Obama’s first day in office was generally off-limits to the press. Breaking with the tradition of allowing pool wire shooters access to the first hours in the Oval Office and a second “do-over” presidential oath, the administration allowed access only to official White House photographer Pete Souza. AFP, AP, and Reuters refused to run the handouts on their wires, but other organizations, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Getty, used the shots. The NPPA has more information about photo editors voicing their concerns to the White House staff. There’s no question that Pete Souza’s one of the great photojournalists (the choice of Souza for the position was widely praised when announced; and here’s some history on the White House photographer position, too.), but as the official photographer for the administration, his work coming from the White House can no longer be considered objective.

Also, much ballyhoo was made on the transition from Change.gov to Whitehouse.gov in online and IT communities. There’s a lot of exciting things happening on the website from a technological standpoint, the robots.txt file being one of the most visible signs of an increase in transparency since the Bush administration. Copyright has taken a hit with these new websites, though, as all material submitted to the site is immediately licensed under the generous Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license. Once you license your work under Creative Commons, though, the cat’s out of the bag. Just as no reputable stock houses allow photos that have been sold under a royalty-free scheme to be marketed or licensed under a traditional rights-managed model, anything put into the ether under Creative Commons can’t ever be recalled. You personally can stop making it available, but everyone else who downloaded/remixed/sold the work while you offered it under a Creative Commons license will be able to do so in perpetuity. With Lawrence Lessig close to the Obama administration’s technology advisers, it’s going to be a long road a head for the copyright fight.

2 Responses to “Photography is losing to the Obama administration”

  1. Patrick

    Thanks for posting this one Scott. Its good to see that even in these more positive times, people are keeping there eye on the ball sorta speak.

  2. Handout Photos as Propoganda | dvafoto

    […] since the Fall about access to President Obama’s White House (and before that, honestly: Scott wrote about issues of photography in the White House days after Obama took office). Ron Fourniner’s article in The National Journal titled “Obama‚Äôs Image Machine: […]

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